April 27, 2010

Exhibit highlights Dublin’s Abbey Theatre

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new exhibit highlighting the influence and importance of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre on Irish culture and politics will open at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Morris Library with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday, April 30.

The reception will be in the Hall of Presidents and Chancellors. The exhibit tells the story of the historic theater, founded in 1899, and of its political and social impact on Ireland. As the Irish people struggled against the country’s antiquated land ownership system and as religious strife and resistance to British rule grew, the theater became a forum and a focal point for the Irish unrest.

During the theater’s first production of J.M. Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World” on Jan. 26, 1907, the audience strenuously objected to the language and plot. Its portrayal of Irish peasantry reportedly led to rioting and police intervention.

Whether despite, or because of the controversy, the play soon gained a reputation as one of the greatest Irish comedies. The “riot” at the premiere was by no means the last at the Abbey though. The Abbey was the stage for a new generation of Irish thinkers, artists and writers as they celebrated Irish culture and artistry both historically and with modern works.

Exhibit visitors will learn of the storied theater’s history and how contributing authors such as W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory and Sean O’Casey influenced their country and its culture. The writings come from the extensive collection of Irish literature within Morris Library’s Special Collections.

For more information about the exhibit contact Melissa Hubbard, Special Collections rare book librarian at 618/453-2516 or visit the website at http://libguides.lib.siu.edu/irishcollections.